Every year one entertainment event in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood attracts huge worldwide attention: the Toronto International Beaches Jazz Festival. Lido Chilelli, a local entrepreneur, is the person who came up with the idea and who keeps organizing the event year after year, and he definitely had to be included in the Beach article series.
I met Lido at his private home / office located on Queen Street East. The office was buzzing, mail was just being delivered, and important news from sponsors was just coming in. I realized I had to be speedy to catch this busy man in a few free moments.
Born and raised in Toronto, Lido has been living in the Beach for 25 years. His two children attended neighbourhood schools and are active in local sports and culture. Of Italian heritage, he originally grew up in Downsview and studied urban geography at York University. His early work experience included a stint with a special events tour company that would take visitors to NFL games, provide souvenirs for the Grey Cup as well as the papal visit. Event management has long been in Lido’s blood. He ventured forth to become an entrepreneur and opened a bar / restaurant called “Lido’s in the Beach” that was in operation for 17 years. Lido adds that he chose the Beach neighbourhood because it is a close knit, unique community with a wide Torontonian appeal.
He liked the neighbourhood so much that he wanted to open it up to the rest of Toronto. So he got to work, hired live bands, put on some jazz music and dancing at his restaurant. People from all over Toronto started flocking here. Lido’s drew thousands of people into the Beach neighbourhood.
Based on this experience Lido took his ideas to the next level: he concluded that there should be a jazz festival. He said “We have the park, we have the musicians, and we have the music lovers.” All the ingredients were there. Lido admits he knew nothing about festival organization; he simply used his common sense. In 1989 the first Beaches Jazz Festival was kicked off. It was held in the park – Kew Gardens – and lasted for two days with an attendance of a couple of thousand people. The great thing was that the festival was free, and its popularity exploded virtually overnight. A trip to the park to see some live jazz was the perfect family outing. Lido describes the setting in the park as “a recipe for a musical love-in.”
Beaches Jazz Festival 2006 – I had a great time…
The residents wanted more, so he decided to develop an activity during the week and that is how Streetfest was born. Streetfest came into being as an original event showcasing bands between Woodbine and Beech Avenues. During the first few years it was held from 7 to 11 pm, and the roads were still open to traffic. The event’s popularity spread like wildfire, people were dancing on the sidewalks and spilling out onto the streets. Queen Street was finally closed off to road traffic in 1995, and as Lido says “The rest is history”.
The local impact of the Beaches Jazz Festival is enormous: Lido recently commissioned an economic impact study which concluded that the Beaches Jazz Festival directly or indirectly attracts about $38 million every year to the City of Toronto. For many local businesses it is the best time of the year. This year the Beaches Jazz Festival will generate over 120 million media impressions, and during 2006 the website had 25 million hits from all over the world. The Beaches Jazz Festival has become a tourist stop for people from all over the world and provides a tremendous boost to local hotels and restaurants.
But not only business people love this event, local and international music aficionados alike have fallen in love with this festival: in a recent ECOS/ Toronto Star Poll the Beaches Jazz Festival was voted Toronto’s favourite music festival. Now in its 19th year, musicians come from all over the world. They love the crowd and the area because it offers so much fellowship and a really special atmosphere.
Statue in Lido’s office
The costs of putting on a free festival are funded almost exclusively through corporate sponsorships. Less than 10% of the budget is covered by funds from public sources. Lido adds it has become increasingly challenging to find sponsorships; particularly this year he has noticed a change in the corporate marketplace, and some corporations are moving away from sponsoring community events. Lido commented that it is a challenge every year to put the festival on because things like policing, insurance and garbage removal cost more. Every year it gets harder.
He calls the festival a labour of love; it is “like a baby that you care for”. He concludes when you are in the arts that’s the way it is. Next year the festival is going to celebrate its 20th anniversary and Lido sighs that “even after all these years essentially you are still a starving artist”.
Getting a street festival off the ground is not easy, and Lido adds that you have to be sensitive to the needs of the local residents. Working with the businesses and residents involves an educational process, and all the stake-holders need to find a good way of co-existing. What worked in Lido’s favour was that he himself is a resident of the neighbourhood, he is part of the community and works with the neighbourhood all the time. He would find out right away if something needed adjusting.
“Dr. Draw” performs in 2006 – he was amazing